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No simple solution


By Christine Aziz

The oil-for-food deal aims to alleviate the worst effects of the sanctions on iraq. As a result of delays in the implementation, the Iraqi people continue to suffer.

When the oil-for-food agreement was announced late last year, the Iraqis fired guns in the air in jubilation. “We were so excited,” 30-year-old Waffa Fawzi recalled. “We thought that for the first time in seven years we would be able to buy meat.”

In April, four months after the first proceeds from the sale of Iraqi oil had reached special UN accounts, Waffa is standing patiently in a Red Crescent food queue in Baghdad. The food and medicines that were promised under the agreement of UN Security Council Resolution 986 have still not arrived. In her smart clothes and neat velvet hair band, Waffa seems an unlikely recipient of the food rations that continue to be offered to needy Iraqis of all classes. A civil engineer, Waffa is typical of the numbers of middle-class Iraqis eligible for food and other donations from humanitarian agencies. The middle classes once formed 70 per cent of the population, but in the past seven years, they have been integrated into the ranks of the poor.

“You can’t think of this as a Third World situation,” observed one aid worker in Baghdad. “You have to think ‘What if we had seven years of sanctions in Europe, say England?’”

 

 


Dashed hopes

To the Iraqis it now seems that SCR986 is nothing more than a vague promise. By the end of April, the first deliveries of food and medicines had arrived in Arbil in the north. But in the less well off south, people were still waiting — more than five months after the agreement was signed.

The delay in the delivery of food and medicines has posed problems for the humanitarian agencies working in both the north and the south of Iraq. In February, Federation workers in Baghdad warned that vulnerable members of society will actually be worse off under the oil-for-food deal. “The people will no longer benefit from extra food donations from the agencies because donors will think that Iraq’s problems have been solved. The nutritional situation could further deteriorate,” said Sjakkelien Wasmann, regional nutritionist for the International Federation.

At about the same time, Waldo Yesus Amar, coordinator of the UN Humanitarian Programme in Iraq, was very precise as to the contents of the SCR986 deal for Iraq. Of the 2 billion dollars expected in revenues from oil sales, 900 million dollars is allocated to food and 210 million dollars to medicine. Amar agrees that this is not enough to meet present needs which he says are greater now than they have ever been.

“In 1992, the urban income was better than now. Everyone had something; but after five years they are much needier. When the UN and NGOs had more resources, they needed less. Now, when our resources are dwindling they need more. There is donor fatigue concerning Iraq. The donors are now saying, ‘Iraq’s problems are over. Let the UN get on with it.’”

Aid agencies share the concern that donors will lose interest in Iraq. According to Naoki Kokawa, desk officer for the Middle East and Iraq at the Federation, the British Red Cross was recently refused money for medicines for Iraq by the Overseas Development Agency. “This is their first refusal for such funding. This could indicate a future trend,” he said.

Needs still acute

In October 1996, a needs assessment study was carried out by the Inter-national Federation together with the British, German and Netherlands Red Cross Societies. The study anticipated the delay in the expected benefits of the oil-for-food deal, and focused on the continuing need for the Emergency Programme implemented by the Federation and the Iraqi Red Crescent. Currently, the Federation supplies food rations through the Red Crescent to 350,000 people (some 46,000 families) on a monthly basis, with a particular effort to assist malnourished children. “We plan to continue general food distributions up to the end of this year to supplement any shortfall in government rations while we wait for the oil-for-food provisions to arrive and until all vulnerable groups are catered for,” said Kokawa.

At the Ibn Baldi hospital in Baghdad, Dr Jawdat Abdul Aziz explains how dependent he and his colleagues are on the maternity and X-ray kits that are distributed by the Federation every three months to hospitals throughout Iraq. While six-day-old Kara Haider dies slowly in the incubator before us, Dr Aziz goes through a list of medicines and facilities that are no longer available to him. Kara, he says, is just one of a growing number of children he sees born prematurely, or who are full term but severely underweight. “The mothers are not getting enough nourishment. What can we do? Women who can’t breast-feed have to buy dried milk which can cost 2,000 ID* for a tin.”

Tony Maryon, head of the International Federation’s regional delegation in Amman, further emphasized that the lack of basic medicines will continue to be a problem as long as UN sanctions on Iraq persist.

Moyassar Hamdon Sulaiman is Secretary General of the Iraqi Red Crescent. Like most of his compatriots he is sceptical that the food and medicines heading for Iraq will make much difference to the present situation. “You can’t undo the effects of seven years of sanctions in six months,” he said in his busy Baghdad office. In an attempt to protect the most vulnerable, the Red Crescent, along with the Federation, has established a nutrition programme expected to benefit 50,000 malnourished children under the age of five. Sjakkelien Wasmann from the Netherlands is responsible for setting up the programme. “Malnourished babies should be in hospital for 20 days for effective treatment, but mothers take the babies home after five days — they have the rest of the family to look after. We will try to catch these children.”

Behind the Red Crescent office, Waffa Fawzi is loading her supplies into the back of a pick-up truck. She is better paid than most — earning approximately 15,000 ID* a month. “I support my mother and brothers and sisters on this money. I am not ashamed to be in a Red Crescent queue because nowadays this sort of thing is normal for us. Oil-for-food will not change anything. Food and medicine are not the only things we need, even if they are the most essential at the moment.”

 

Christine Aziz
Christine Aziz is a freelance journalist based in Amsterdam. She travelled to Iraq in April.



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